John McCain's Afghanistan Problem

Last week, the veterans action group, , began circulating by e-mail a video of a 2003 speech to the Council of Foreign Relations during which Republican nominee John McCain suggested the US could 'muddle through' in Afghanistan and in which he said the conflict there takes a back seat in importance to Iraq.

In the message, called on supporters to inform their local media about the existence of the video and McCain's statements. In the e-mail stated, 'The video offers a glimpse into the true thinking of those, like McCain, who backed launching the war in Iraq and committing our forces there indefinitely.'

John McCain and others lacked good judgment about how to respond to the tragedy of September 11th, the e-mail added. 'Particularly, they believed that Afghanistan wasn't a concern and we didn't need to take it seriously. ... Five years later, we now see where that poor judgment and lack of insight has gotten us. The Taliban has regained large swaths of Afghanistan, al Qaeda has reconstituted itself, Osama bin Laden still is free, and Afghanistan is in crisis.'

'All of that lends itself to our nation being that much less secure,' the e-mail continued, 'and in much greater danger of another terrorist attack from extremists from the Pakistan/Afghanistan region.'

McCain especially deserves special note as he is now running for president, claiming strong national security credentials. In 2002, while pushing for war in Iraq on CBS's Face the Nation, 'McCain said capturing Osama bin Laden wasn't that important.'' also expressed skepticism that the mainstream media would hold John McCain to the same standard on foreign policy issues they hold Barack Obama to. 'Don't expect the mainstream media to report on and analyze all of this,' the e-mail concluded before providing tools for contacting the local press.

The video, to say the least, is disturbing. At the time the McCain delivered his speech, he had just successfully helped the Bush administration conduct a massive media and political campaign to go to war with Iraq. As part of that campaign, McCain and the Bush administration justified the war on Iraq based on the supposed existence of WMD and because of the country's imagined ties to the September 11th attacks.

At the time, the Bush administration had already experienced some embarrassment that no WMD have been found, but promised that some would be found. Early military victories boosted the administration's popularity. McCain's comments came just as the Iraqi insurgency had not yet launched its full-scale counter-offensive against US forces which turned the Iraq occupation into a quagmire that McCain is all to happy to stay in.

At the moment this speech was delivered, supporting war on Iraq was a political gem for someone aspiring to the presidency.

After the speech, an audience member asked McCain about his views on handling Afghanistan. In a rambling and contradictory response, McCain stated that the situation there is 'dicey' and that warlords and Al Qaeda and Taliban elements seem to be in control of much of the country outside of Kabul.

McCain further admitted that Bush-backed Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai had little power outside of Kabul and that little action had been taken to bring various factions together to both reunify the country and pose a serious force against Al Qaeda or the remaining Taliban elements. McCain further expressed concern about the situation and the rising numbers of US troop casualties.

'But I am not as concerned as I am about Iraq today, obviously, or I would be talking about Afghanistan,' he added. He seemed to leave any potential for progress there up to Karzai and his weak situation. 'If Karzai can make the progress that he is making,' McCain stated, 'then in the long-term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan.'

Here's the point: John McCain, who advocated an attack on Iraq in November 2002 in retaliation for the September 11th attacks, which were ordered and organized by people who were never tied to or in Iraq but are still somewhere in Afghanistan, seemed to be saying that the invasion of and occupation of Iraq was the most important issue of the day.

But political expediency wasn't the only cause of McCain single-mindedness on Iraq. Like the Bush administration, for John McCain the drive for war in Iraq and its conduct, distracted from the pursuit of the people who ordered the 9/11 attacks. It shows how Bush policy, and now McCain's policy, was not geared toward resolving the issue of terrorism but rather sought to use fear of terrorism to achieve other imperialist aims.